WIPO and India Partner to Protect Traditional Knowledge from Misappropriation

WIPO’s 184 member states are negotiating an international legal instrument to ensure the effective protection of TK and traditional cultural expressions, and to regulate the interface between IP and genetic resources.

Representatives from 35 countries are in Delhi this week to explore how the success of India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library – a landmark project which protects India’s centuries-old traditional knowledge from misappropriation – could be emulated by interested countries.

In a statement to the three-day International Conference on the Utilization of the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library as a Model for Protection of Traditional Knowledge, co-organized by WIPO and India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which opened on March 22, 2011, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry welcomed international cooperation in the fight against the misappropriation of TK. This was echoed by India’s Minister of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, and Parliamentary Affairs Pawan Kumar Bansal.

Mr. Bansal informed the conference that international agreements with major patent offices around the world on the TKDL has been successful in challenging bids to misappropriate Indian TK, saying TKDL has been “an immensely effective tool for the protection of TK.a powerful weapon to fight biopiracy.” The Minister said India is prepared to work with WIPO and interested countries in sharing its expertise on TKDL. Mr. Bansal welcomed WIPO’s initiative to organize an international conference on TKDL, and the Organization’s commitment to offer technical expertise in this area. As Minister responsible for CSIR, Mr. Bansal assured participants “all cooperation will be extended to all of you, in particular, to WIPO, so that countries rich in traditional knowledge and biodiversity, desirous of adopting TKDL as a model of traditional knowledge protection, are able to do so.”

Mr. Gurry praised India’s leadership in taking domestic and international action to combat misappropriation of the wealth of knowledge contained in its traditional medicine systems, such as Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga.

He described the TKDL approach as complementary to the work currently underway in WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, where WIPO’s 184 member states are negotiating an international legal instrument to ensure the effective protection of TK and traditional cultural expressions, and to regulate the interface between IP and genetic resources.

“The IGC’s negotiations are about developing the international legal architecture. In parallel, however, there is an important supplementary role for practical initiatives, which can change the international landscape often faster than legislative or normative approaches,” said Mr. Gurry, noting “The TKDL is an excellent example of a technical platform which can work alongside legislative frameworks and support them. The TKDL is distinct from – but complementary to – the negotiations taking place in the IGC.”

The Indian TKDL project, developed over a ten year period, documented knowledge about traditional medical treatments and the curative properties of plants, which was contained in ancient texts and languages, and classified the information in a searchable database. The TKDL now contains 34 million pages in five international languages. By making this information available, via Access and Non-Disclosure Agreements, to six major international patent offices, the TKDL, coupled with India’s global bio-piracy watch system, has, according to the CSIR, achieved dramatic success in preventing the grant of erroneous patents, at minimal direct cost and in a matter of a few weeks.

Mr. Gurry said that India’s TKDL could be a good model for others and that WIPO was ready to facilitate international collaboration for countries which, inspired by the Indian example, were interested in establishing their own TKDLs. He cautioned however that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that the Indian model might need to be adapted to the specific situation of individual countries, in particular where a community’s TK is held orally. The Director General observed that “The Indian Government holds the experience, expertise and technology in establishing TKDLs and has expressed a willingness to make this know-how available to other interested countries, for them to use and adapt as they see fit. WIPO, with its international contacts and expertise in identifying and managing the IP implications of documenting TK, as well as in ensuring coherence between such practical initiatives and the normative negotiations in the IGC, is ready to support these initiatives if countries so wish and catalyze collaborative partnerships if so requested.”

The Director General said WIPO is in consultations with the Government to “internationalize” the TKDL – to help make available the Indian Government’s TKDL experience and know-how to other countries which plan to create their own TKDLs. He said “WIPO is prepared to assist beneficiary countries, should they so wish, to conclude access and non-disclosure agreements with international patent offices. Beneficiary countries would own and control access to their own TKDLs.”

CSIR Director General Samir K. Brahmachari and Director of the TKDL V.K Gupta reiterated India’s willingness to work with countries interested in similar models to protect their TK. Mr. Brahmachari said the challenge for the New Delhi meeting and beyond is to ensure that the great treasures represented in a nation’s TK is to ensure this knowledge serves future generations.

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